It has been nine years of blood, sweat and tears for St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. Jackson has given everything to this organization—he didn't quit when times got tough, he didn't complain when futility was at its highest, he simply put his head down and worked harder than anyone else in the organization.
At the age of 29, SJ39 is on a quest for his eighth straight 1,000-yard season and the first winning season of his career. As one of the oldest players on the team, Jackson has turned into more of a mentor and leader of young men. However, his days as an elder presence on the youngest team in the NFL may be coming to an end.
Earlier this season, both Jackson and the Rams jointly agreed to void the final year of his contract. By voiding the final year of his deal, he will now become a free agent in 2013. It could prove to be a good move for all parties involved.
St. Louis is now off the hook for $7 million in base salary, which will help its efforts in spending money elsewhere to further upgrade the team. The contract termination may not be the best move financially for Jackson, but it gives him the freedom to sing elsewhere if he so chooses.
By the beginning of next season he will be 30 years old, and in the NFL today a 30-year-old running back belongs in the nursing home. It's rare to see a running back in his thirties thrive and succeed as the No. 1 option. However, it's likely that Jackson wouldn't be counted on as the go-to guy if he did indeed go to a contender.
Yet, he may not have to go far to find his contender. The Rams are improving weekly and mathematically they still have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed.
All of the chips have to fall their way, but with a little luck and a six-game winning streak to close out the season, their time could be sooner than expected.
There's no hiding the fact that Jackson isn't the same player he was when he entered the league back in 2004, yet there's also no denying that he is effective when given room to run. According to the analysts over at Pro Football Focus, he is currently the 14th-best running back in the league.
Even though he's only averaging 3.9 yards per carry, that doesn't take away from the fact that Jackson has above-average vision. Not to mention he can still shed tacklers and make defenders miss in the open field. Through 13 games this season he has forced 15 missed tackles.
Moreover, he has piled up 546 yards after contact. That places him in the top 10 of all running backs who have taken at least 25 percent of their team's snaps. His 2.5-yard average after contact is good enough for 18th-best in the NFL.
By no means are these numbers overwhelming, but they do prove a point. Jackson can still play in this league, even at age 29. Shoot, he's only 71 yards away from 10,000 yards rushing for his career. He will be the 27th player in NFL history to claim such an accolade.
While 27th may not be first or even top-10, just sit back and think about it for a minute. Only 26 players ever can claim they belong to such a prestigious list. The NFL has seen thousands of different running backs come in and out of the league. Plus, on his way to 10,000 he has passed some pretty storied names—most notably Earl Campbell and Joe Perry.
With three weeks left to play in the regular season, Jackson will have his final opportunity to leave his mark on the city of St. Louis, a city he loves so dearly and has called home his whole career. Here's a tweet he sent out on December 12 in response to a fan's question:
It would me a lot. They drafted me and its who i am loyal to @louis_cioffi how much would it mean to start & end your career with the rams— Steven Jackson (@sj39) December 14, 2012
Also, head coach Jeff Fisher has expressed his desire to have Jackson finish his career here, stating (via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch): “We’ve stated all along that we hope he’ll be able to finish his career here."
But we all know there's one big factor that will separate both sides when they meet in the offseason: money.
Can Jackson and the Rams agree on his worth going forward, or will SJ39 finish out his career somewhere else like Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce?